Friday, April 14, 2017

A trip to Disneyland with 300 high school students

The performing arts department of our local high school has sponsored a spring break trip to Disneyland for students in the program every couple of years for a number of years now. I first became aware of the program a few years back when our then high school senior wanted to go on the trip. He returned with a glowing report. He still counts the trip as one of the most cherished experiences of his high school years.

When my wife brought up the possibility of our son who has special needs going on the trip this year, I knew that his condition was such that we could not trust him to an adult chaperone that might or might not have adequate training to manage his needs. We ultimately offered to have me go on the trip as a chaperone for a group of boys, including our son.

This Disney trip would be impossible without the dedication of the school's drama director. I have watched this man grow from one of my young Boy Scouts into a highly competent drama and education professional. Although he doesn't earn one dime more than a teacher that puts in eight hours a day and then goes home, he has for years devoted vast chunks of personal time and effort to high quality productions and programs.

Not only would the Disney trip not happen without my friend's selfless work, his logistical management ensured efficient schedules, good accommodations, and minimal problems, all on a very low budget. This allowed a high number of drama, choir, band, orchestra, and journalism students to go. Even the Disney folks that work daily with school groups were impressed with my friend's attention to detail.

A few days before the trip we attended a concert at the school where each group performed the show they would be performing in California. Due to extensive preparations, each tour member received a duffel bag embroidered with the theme and their own name. In the bag were three T-shirts of different colors and designs. The proper T-shirt was to be worn on each of the three days we would be in the parks so that we could more easily identify tour members.

After the concert, chaperones gathered for a final meeting to put a cap on all the information that had been regularly emailed to us in the weeks preceding the event. We had enough chaperones that most groups consisted of 6-10 students. The drama director had a detailed binder that included all of the information about the trip to a high degree of detail. Each chaperone received a copy of the binder in booklet form. The students had received their booklets at school. In addition, everyone received a laminated copy of the full itinerary to keep with them at all times on the trip.

We gathered at the school late on a Sunday night to board rented tour buses. Most gear was stowed below. We kept anything we would need for the night and most of Monday with us. Travelers found their preassigned seats. And then we were off, pretty much on schedule.

I wasn't sure how well I would sleep on a bus. It sure wasn't as restful as being in my own bed, but it wasn't that bad. We occasionally paused at large truck stops along the way so that folks could stretch their legs and take care of necessities. (Each bus also had a restroom, but that's not really adequate for all of the people on the bus on a long trip.)

Mid morning on Monday we pulled into the parking lot of a beach not far from Anaheim. After a continental breakfast, we spent the next part of the day hanging out on the beach, swimming in the surf, and visiting nearby shops. Many people bought lunch.

After leaving the beach we went to a grocery store. The chaperones handed out the first per diem amount to their group members to buy food for breakfasts for the next three days. Students pooled their money with those that would be in the same hotel room. We then checked into the hotel and got everyone situated before heading off to dinner at Medieval Times. We ate dinner while watching a spectacular reenactment of a medieval knight tournament. Then it was back to the hotel and bed.

Although there was plenty of time for entertaining ourselves, the main purpose of the trip was for students to engage in top notch workshops with Disney professionals and to perform publicly at a Disney park.

The weather turned out to be spectacular during the next three days. Each day we would get the students to the Disney parks early. Different groups performed at different times. Each group also attended a top notch workshop in their discipline with Disney professionals. Once again, our drama director managed getting all of the performance gear and apparel where it needed to be, when it needed to be there. Chaperones managed getting students to their performances and workshops, although, most students were pretty responsible about this on their own.

Since my son is in one of the choirs, I was privileged to attend the choir workshop. This was led by a high energy middle age woman who could sing many diverse styles with stunning excellence. She also played the piano and was great at directing the choir. They listed a number of shows and video games that featured her vocal talents. Our choir director was very impressed. This woman taught about the business as well as technique. It was amazing to see and hear what she pulled out of our students. Our choir director was given recordings, which can be played at the school but cannot be legally distributed in any fashion.

Each day chaperones would hand out a per diem to group members to help defray the cost of eating lunch and dinner. It was made clear beforehand that students needed to supplement with their own money, since the per diem was definitely insufficient to buy real meals in the parks. Most of us regularly hiked to nearby fast food places to save money.

Spring break time is among the busiest times at Disney parks, along with Christmastime, and most of the summer. The parks weren't bad first thing in the morning. But I found that something I had heard years ago was true. The crowds that arrive at pretty much any Disney park at opening time tend to go to the right or else straight forward after walking through the entry area. If you turn instead to the left you will have no problem hitting attractions in those areas for the first hour. Crowds start to saturate after that.

During the days we were were at the parks, the sheer press of people was most pronounced between 4 pm and about 9:30 pm. Stepping onto a walkway was like jumping into a rushing river and getting carried along by the current. You have to plan and time your exit as if you are swimming in a current.

Another thing that amazed me was the number of people that would start sitting down along parade routes even more than three hours in advance, in order to have a prime seat for a 15-minute parade. Yes, they are high quality parades. But, come on! I kept thinking, "You paid an astronomical price for a ticket to get in here, and now you're going to blow a huge part of the time in the park sitting on dirty concrete?" Whatever.

Free Fastpasses are a great idea for the most popular attractions. These allowed us to quickly get on rides that others waited hours to ride. But you have to get Fastpasses early in the day because only a limited number are offered each day.

I wore good athletic shoes with Drymax lite hiking socks. But we walked a lot. My phone tells me that I walked more than 100,000 steps during the three days we spent at the Disney parks. If each of those had been a full step it would have amounted to 50 miles. As it was, I covered about 30 miles. Even with good footwear, my feet were sore and I developed two blisters. When I kept seeing people wearing thin, flimsy flipflops, I couldn't help but wonder how badly their feet hurt.

As chaperones we were tasked with ensuring that students stayed at the parks or nearby restaurants, and that they did not return to the hotel until after the nightly fireworks show. This policy was apparently developed years earlier to prevent certain problems that inevitably occur when you have several hundred teenagers staying a hotel.

On Thursday morning we had everyone pack their gear into the buses and check out of the hotel. They didn't receive their per diem until everything was ready to go. We walked to the parks as we had the previous two days, attended workshops and performances, rode attractions, and stuck around until midnight. There was no hotel to go back to. We had to wait until we met at a nearby restaurant, where the buses were ready to take us home. I noticed that lines for rides became much more manageable after 10 pm.

Tour members were pretty weary as we gathered. We had been going strong for three days straight. Some boarded as soon as the drivers opened the bus doors, although, the buses wouldn't leave for half an hour. All of the boys from my chaperone group were loaded and half of them were asleep by 12:10.

I had started coming down with a cold on Thursday morning. Chaperones couldn't go to bed until all of their students were in their rooms with no guests. We also had to be up early each morning to get ready in time to roll the students out of bed. That made for significant sleep deprivation. I found that I could maintain alertness via caffeinated soft drinks, but that the caffeine did nothing to provide the recovery that comes through restful sleep. I'm not a kid anymore, so this kind of thing takes its toll on me.

Fortunately we had no problems getting all of our tour members into their assigned seats on time. Folks had been in pretty high spirits when we left on Sunday night. That was all gone by 12:30 am on Friday. I was pretty much settled in by the time the bus turned onto the freeway entrance. I think I was asleep by the time the bus got onto the freeway seconds later. That's pretty much how it was for all of the passengers.

We again paused at a couple of big truck stops along the way. As we had on the way down, we switched bus drivers at one of those stops. I was still pretty tired when the bus pulled into a buffet restaurant in St. George, where we had breakfast. Nearly everyone went back to sleep between St. George and the truck stop in Fillmore. After leaving Fillmore we watched a Disney animated movie and part of a musical.

I was very happy when we pulled into the parking lot of the school. We had had no major problems on the trip. Things had gone pretty much as planned (according to the detailed itinerary developed by the drama director). We gathered our gear and headed home.

If your school is thinking about taking a trip like this, I'd suggest that the tour leader get in contact with our high school's drama director. His experience and organizational prowess would allow him to provide very useful tips.

People have asked me if I had fun on the trip. I tell them that I didn't go on the trip to have fun. Spending of week of precious vacation to hang out with 300 teenagers really isn't the funnest thing in the world. I went to make sure that my son could be safe while having fun. I was able to handle several situations to that end. It's not that I had no fun; I did. But that wasn't my goal.

I do this kind of stuff (including Scouting) so that I can help provide youth with worthwhile experiences. One reason for this is that others did this for me during my formative years. Also, seeing the faces of the youth light up and seeing them grow through their experiences is far more enjoyable than simply filling my personal fun bucket.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Help suicidal people with love, not condemnation

Recently I have seen a social media post going around that uses the hashtag #SuicideAwareness. It starts out with, "Wanna kill yourself? Imagine this." It then goes on to paint a horrible caricature of the impact an individual's suicide would have on the lives of others. Family members, friends, enemies, teachers, community members, etc. would end up with painfully shattered lives. The blame for this is laid squarely on the shoulders of the person considering suicide.

While the long post ends with encouragement such as, "Don’t end your life, you have so much to live for," and "I’m here for absolutely anyone that needs to talk, no matter who you are," the main gist of the post is that you are a bad person for contemplating suicide. It seems telling to me that I have mostly seen this post re-posted by people that have never personally grappled with suicidal thoughts in a serious way.

The post seems to have been written with good intentions. But I feel that it fails to comprehend the real reasons people become suicidal. It may actually encourage rather than discourage suicide. I am no expert on the subject but I have learned a thing or two from working with professionals that have helped loved ones who were suicidal.

Very few people that are suicidal really want to die. They find themselves in intense pain that seems inescapable. They feel that they are out of options. Nothing else they've tried has worked. Now they are down to their last option. Most already find that option horrifically distasteful. But they will take that route if there's no other way.

Of course this is an irrational approach. Of course there are other options. But a suicidal person's state of mind prevents them from comprehending those paths as viable alternatives.

Our son has confided to us that he has pulled back from the brink of suicide a number of times because he didn't want to cause his loved ones pain. This shows that the power of love is pretty strong. The referenced post plays on this innate human love, but it does so by using a shaming approach that seems detrimental to the intended message.

Most people contemplating suicide already know it's bad. Most already feel that they are bad for having suicidal thoughts. They don't want those thoughts but they can't get rid of them. It seems to me that making a suicidal person feel even worse for experiencing those pervasive thoughts is more likely to add to their pain, which already seems unbearable to them.

Years ago a young man in my young adult ward took his own life. I felt angry (a common stage of grief). In retrospect I can see that I was selfishly concerned about how this man's death impacted me. I have noticed that the referenced post usually pops up in the aftermath of a suicide. Maybe re-posting those hard words is a response to the anger stage of grief. So I guess it's understandable.

But I really wish people would learn more about suicide. People with suicidal thoughts don't need our anger or our judgment. They need help. The vast majority of people contemplating suicide can be saved with a little effort.

According to Mental Health America "Eight out of ten people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions." SAVE.org says that 80-90% of those that seek treatment are successfully treated. This means that there is hope.

If you become aware of someone exhibiting suicidal warning signs, stay with them and get treatment for them. Call the suicide hotline in your area, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), call 911, or accompany the person to a hospital emergency room. Do this even if it's socially awkward and even if you don't know the person well. You can save a life.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that warning signs include:
  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
  • Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Talking about great guilt or shame
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Talking or thinking about death often
  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order, making a will
Ask questions if you see any of these signs. Do not expect suicidal people to respond to a blanket invitation to chat. Be pro-active in asking questions.

Our family has learned that it's not just OK to ask blunt questions; it's necessary. People are sometimes afraid that asking direct questions about suicide might encourage suicidal thoughts, but research has found quite the opposite. Don't freak out and don't act judgmental. Act with care and concern. Some of the questions you can ask are:
  • Are you contemplating suicide?
  • Do you have a plan for harming yourself or taking your own life?
  • Do you have access to weapons, sharps, alcohol/drugs/chemicals, or other things that you might use to harm yourself?
  • Are you safe with yourself?
Let's face it; suicide is a scary topic. It hits lots of emotional and moral buttons all at once. We never like to have our lives touched by suicide. But the reality is that some people around us struggle with suicidal thoughts. We can't expect them to think rationally about the matter, so it's our duty to step up and help them. We are more likely to be successful when we approach this with loving concern.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Let the sun go down upon your wrath

I was livid. Not only had I been blamed for something that wasn't my fault, the accusation had been leveled in a public forum where I had little chance to defend myself. The heat of my ire was further stoked by the fact that I had clearly (in my mind) been the injured party. How dare anyone impugn my honor in such a manner?!

My first instinct was to jump into the fray with a fiery retort. That's what the natural man in me ached to do (see Mosiah 3:19). It's a good thing that I didn't have immediate access to the forum, because I would probably have followed that impulse. Doing so might have assuaged my carnal instinct to defend my reputation, but it would have led to nothing good.

Even as I fantasized about going the natural man route, I couldn't ignore the caution coming into my mind like a flashing warning light on a car dashboard accompanied by a dinging alarm. The words of Matthew 5:44 kept running through my mind, where The Savior says:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
My inner natural man retorted, "But I'm right! Being charitable doesn't mean failing to correct falsehoods. Charity and truth must coexist in the same realm." Which sounds very high minded. But in reality I was feeling very little in the way of charity at the moment. I was all about being right and having the appearance of being right to my neighbors. I knew that extending forgiveness when offended is the bridge a Christian must cross to obtain mercy. But I was so sure I was right that I didn't see a need to even approach that bridge.

I went on about my day, but the issue continued to fester like an unscratched itch. Thinking of how the Lord had instructed Oliver Cowdery to correct Hiram Page in private (D&C 28:11-12), I thought it would probably be best for me just to visit the claimant and bury the hatchet. Unfortunately my schedule was too full for that. Besides, I was too chicken to do it.

Recalling The Savior's admonition to quickly agree with our adversaries (Matthew 5:25) and Paul's counsel to the Ephesians not to let the sun go down upon our wrath (Ephesians 4:26), I felt I should do something about the matter right away.

Finally I decided to jot down some thoughts. I have found that writing helps me organize and analyze my own thinking. It doesn't reveal all my blind spots or grant complete objectivity, but it tends to nudge me in that direction; maybe because I start to think about what the words would look like to an outside party.

A letter formed as I wrote. The letter was cordial, but sharp and clear about what had actually happened. I'm not using sharp in that sentence as a synonym for clarity. I mean that the tone of the letter had a sharp edge to it.

I put the letter in an envelope. When I had a brief break in duties I made my way to the location of the person that had complained, intending to drop off the letter. But I just couldn't do it. Something didn't feel right about it.

The rest of the day and evening were completely scheduled. That helped push my anger to the back burner. But it didn't help me agree with my adversary quickly. Indeed, the sun went down upon my wrath. But now I'll tell you why that was a good thing.

I seldom have insomnia. But I awoke in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep. So I prayed and listened. A quiet whisper told me that I needed to shred the letter I had written. In my mind's eye I was able to catch an inkling of how the situation in question must have appeared to the other person. My anger evaporated when I realized that I could easily have responded similarly had I been in their shoes. As I pondered I came to understand that it would be OK for me to write a letter, but that every single phrase needed to be composed with the thought, "What would Jesus say?"

My biting letter met the shredder early the next day. After the busy hours of the day, I sat down to compose a new letter. I still felt hurt about being accused in public, even if it was all a misunderstanding. Still, I focused on writing words Jesus would write. The end result was still probably far from that goal, but the conciliatory letter was devoid of counter accusations. I asked for the other person's help to improve. By the time I finished with best wishes for this person and their family, I truly meant it with complete sincerity.

On my way to deliver the note I had a spiritual prompting telling me not to deliver it without attaching a treat. In fact, a pretty clear picture of a specific treat formed in my head. (Still not sure why that specific treat was needed.) I knew that this didn't come from my personal genius, because it's not something I would naturally do. Delivering treat laden notes seems more like something women are prone to do.

I needed to make a run to the store anyway, so obtaining the treat was included in that errand. The Spirit even prodded me to do something to make the package a little more beautiful. After dropping off the package I was filled with charity toward the individual. I felt good, warm, and light. Although I had no idea how the matter would turn out, I knew I had done the right thing.

A couple of days later I was approached by the recipient of my note. We had a very nice chat. In fact, I would say that it was a beautiful experience. I learned some things about this person that I had not known and I felt a strong desire to find a way to serve them. There is a deep goodness in this person.

Sometimes we read only the last part of Ephesians 4:26, where Paul essentially tells us to get over our anger quickly. In KJV the first part of this scripture says, "Be angry, but sin not." The JST, however, renders this portion of the verse, "Can ye be angry, and not sin?" This seems more consistent with Paul's directive to overcome our anger quickly.

Brigham Young said, "There is a wicked anger, and there is a righteous anger. The Lord does not suffer wicked anger to be in his heart...." Most of the time when I'm angry, it's not the kind of anger that is approved by the Holy Ghost. Quite the opposite. Unrighteous anger is sin. Brigham Young likened these kinds of strong emotions to wild horses that must be properly controlled. He said:
Some think and say that it makes them feel better when they are mad, as they call it, to give vent to their madness.... This, however, is a mistake. Instead of its making you feel better, it is making bad worse.
Anger is often likened to fire because it feels like that inside. And burn it does. Like a wildfire, it burns up precious moments and relationships, leaving behind scorched patches of soul that may take years to regenerate.

While I very much appreciate Paul's words about quelling this fire quickly, in my case it seems like letting the sun go down upon my wrath was the right thing to do this time around. Taking time to respond in a more appropriate manner allowed the sun of wrath to set and the cool of the night to put out the fire.

What I'm really describing here is repentance. Although I felt I was right when my anger initially flared, I knew inside that my passionate indignation was not virtuous. It took me a while to admit it. By praying I enabled Christ to extinguish my sin of anger. By following the Spirit's promptings, The Savior was able to change my heart. The ill will I felt completely gave way to sacred charity.

Changing hearts to become more like His is one of the greatest miracles Jesus Christ can perform, thanks to His atonement. How grateful I am that this miracle is accessible to each of us as often as we need it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Must We Use Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine In Sacred Settings?

Our ward choir was recently practicing a version of the hymn Lead, Kindly Light. A brother who is a few years my senior leaned over and asked, "What is a garish day?"

The dictionary.com entry says that garish can mean crudely or tastelessly colorful, lurid, etc. Not being able to think of that at the moment, I said, "It's like a day at Lagoon," referring to a well known local amusement park. I added, "Or most Super Bowl halftime shows." Seeing that my brief explanation lacked clarity, I said, "It's a day of worldliness. The author suggests that he used to like that kind of thing but that he now finds contentment in humbly following God."

While the choir women were working on their part, I had a moment to review the lyrics of this well known hymn. Although another friend of mine says that this is one of his favorite hymns, it has never been a favorite of mine. I realized that at least part of the reason for this is demonstrated by the question posed by my choir brother.

This man is an intelligent person. He is well versed in art and has a deep love for many master works that depict faith, especially paintings. Yet he found it difficult to understand some of the archaic language in this hymn.

All cultures and subcultures have unique language forms; even fictional cultures. Anyone that has read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or better yet, The Silmarillion, has had to grapple with unfamiliar terms and linguistic constructs. Star Wars is rife with unique vocabulary. In the real world, many sources, including the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, recognize peculiar Mormon language usage.

So maybe it's OK that Mormons have some antiquated hymn lyrics and scriptures in Early Modern English, and are encouraged to use EME forms in prayer (see Dallin H. Oaks, April 1993 general conference talk).

On the other hand, I admit that I am at least somewhat sympathetic to complaints that retaining outmoded language forms in prayers and congregational hymns renders these forms of worship inaccessible to an increasing number of English speaking worshipers and potential worshipers.

While I don't foresee modernization of the language used in English editions of LDS canonized scripture anytime soon, let's be honest about the fact that this language will always remain a secondary language to nearly all faithful English speaking Latter-day Saints. Moreover, it will become increasingly foreign to English speakers as Modern English continues to evolve.

I will try to explain why I think this is significant. The most common EME forms people (try to) use in prayer are the pronouns thee, thou, thy, and thine. These were originally the informal versions of the formal you, your, and yours. That is, a person would use thee, thou, thy, and thine when addressing close family members and associates. (This usage has been obsolete for about four centuries now.)

My father was a visionary man. As the result of a number of spiritual experiences, he was able to explain to me that in the premortal life we had a very intimate relationship with Heavenly Father. He said that endearing terms such as Daddy or Papa would be the closest words in our language to describe how each of us related to our Eternal Father in that realm.

Prayer is intended to access that intimate link between child and Eternal Parent. So it would seem best when praying to use language that is most respectfully accessible to us, avoiding language that interferes with that close relationship. Joseph B. Wirthlin advised worrying "about speaking from your heart" in prayer, rather than worrying about the wording of the prayer.

While using currently familiar language might be appropriate for personal prayers, what about prayers said in public? Shouldn't we strive to use the EME forms then? We should probably strive for something like that, since that's what you see modeled in general conference and other meetings where general authorities and officers pray. But it's an acquired skill.

Hardly a Sunday goes by that I don't hear an otherwise erudite adult utter some kind of cringe worthy awkward phrasing in an attempt to use EME forms in public prayer. Hardly a public prayer is said (at least where I attend church) where EME forms are employed correctly. How many generally intelligent people really know how to say, "Wilt Thou please...," "...that Thou wouldst...," and the like?

While it is incumbent upon us as Christians to tolerate the inadvertent foibles of others, this kind of stilted phrasing seems more inclined to alienate us from Deity rather than drawing us closer into our relationship with God. Moreover, it causes people to avoid praying in public for fear of stumbling over unfamiliar phrases that they believe are required. Can't we just focus more on genuinely loving God when we pray publicly rather than trying to use wording that seems weird to us?

I would say that hymns with obsolete language will soon fall out of usage. Except Latter-day Saints seem to have a great love for the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, despite the hymn being omitted from the most recent edition of the Church's hymnbook. The lyrics include a fair amount of outdated language. How many people know what "Here I raise my Ebenezer" means? Yet modern people seem to love the hymn because it speaks to their wandering souls.

I suppose what I am saying is that I'm not a purist on this issue. That's because I feel that it's generally not the language forms that are essential; it's the relationships with God and fellow souls that are imperative. That's where our focus should be: doing what draws us closer and more lovingly into these relationships.

So, the next time you hear someone in church pray using modern familiar language, just chill and feel what the Holy Spirit has to say on the subject. I'm certain that God loves it when faithful people humbly pray to Him, whatever language forms they use.

Monday, January 23, 2017

At a loss as to how to help others deal with a loss

I have been looking out the window at the dismal weather and thinking of how it matches part of what I have been feeling. The clouds have been low enough to obscure the mountains; the skies have been grey all day.

Right now I am watching the second snowstorm of the day as voluminous flakes get pushed around by windy bluster on their way to the ground. I will have to do more snow clearing. I'm all for being happy about having enough water stored in the mountains for the dry months. But this month has been brutal as far as snow removal goes. It's like the Energizer bunny that keeps going and going.

That's the least of issues right now. The pall that has continually pushed its way into my consciousness throughout the day involves the death of my neighbor and friend. Young guy in his early 30s. Good guy. Five kids under 12. He was away on business when he didn't show up for work. They found him dead in his hotel bed. No indications of cause of death. The family will have to wait until an autopsy is done before the body can be shipped back home.

I wasn't sure what to think yesterday afternoon when two police vehicles parked next to our home. The two officers went into my neighbor's home. Some time later they returned to their vehicles and drove away. Before long other cars started parking near our home. A while later, the Relief Society president of our LDS ward stopped by and gave us the harsh news. My wife and daughter took some food over while I went to help my elderly mom.

On a positive note, my neighbor's mother was at the house when the news came. She had come from out of state, prepared to watch the kids for a few days while her son and daughter-in-law went on an anniversary trip after he returned from his business trip. Sadly, that anniversary trip will never happen. This lady has lost a son, but at least she's there in her daughter-in-law's time of need. Her husband, also a friend of mine, is on his way here from out of state to grapple with the loss of his son.

All day long I have watched a constant stream of visitors ply my neighbor's home. I haven't been over there. I am willing to mourn with those that mourn (Mosiah 18:9), but what can I do? How do I even begin to relate to this young widow? I can imagine that almost anything I might say would seem trite. So I've been mourning with those that mourn, but separately.

I firmly believe that the scriptural injunctions to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27) and to visit the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions (James 1:27) are more than just doctrinal fluff. They are incumbent on anyone that assays to be a disciple of Christ.

So, what to do? I could clear snow from my neighbor's driveway. But somebody already beat me to it. The women in the community are handling food. I'm not aware of any handyman needs at my neighbor's house. Which is good, because I'm not a very handy guy in that respect. I can write you a computer program or build you a database, though.

I'm kind of at a loss. I want to do something. I want to let this family know that I feel their pain in some minor way without coming across as crass. Maybe my chance will come in the days and years that follow the funeral, after family members return home and life returns to normal for the rest of us. I am absolutely certain that the new normal for my widowed neighbor and her children will require a lot of outside help.

But if I'm too timid to do something right now, what makes me think that I won't find an excuse to shy away from it then? Maybe I just need to let them know that I care. If I'm sincere in my soul, I guess I shouldn't care if it sounds trite.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Suicide Comes Knocking

A long time has gone by since I last wrote. It's not that life has been so uneventful that there's been nothing to write about. So much has happened that writing on this blog has been pushed far to the back burner.

After posting at Thanksgiving time about my children that are "broken vessels," we embarked on a bit of adventure with our teen son that has Asperger Syndrome.

Technically they don't call it Asperger Syndrome anymore. Rather, it is one of many Autism spectrum disorders. One psychologist told us the technical term, but it was about 17 words long, so I don't remember what it was. I often call it, "The Autism spectrum disorder formerly known as Asperger Syndrome" to lampoon the current semantic silliness. Whatever.

It had been no secret that things were progressing poorly for our son, especially in the school department. Simple tasks he used to be able to do eluded him. He used to enjoy spending hours reading rather deep fantasy novels that were far beyond the comprehension level of most of his peers. But it had been months since he had done any serious reading. We were working with professionals. We had tried many interventions but nothing seemed to work well.

Then one night my wife discovered our son curled up on the basement floor in his underwear shaking. He wasn't having a seizure. But it was clear he was extremely distraught. I think past generations might have called this kind of experience having a mental or a nervous breakdown.

After the application of a great deal of motherly love, our son finally calmed to the point that he could say that he simply couldn't go on. He had determined that he basically had no other option than to end his life. He had researched and developed a viable plan for accomplishing his design. Fortunately the needed supplies eluded him in the state he was in, so he was unable to carry out his plan.

We called the suicide crisis hotline.

Our son was actually pleased when we took him to a mental health facility for in-patient treatment. He had been without hope but the prospect of intensive treatment gave him a glimmer of hope to hold onto.

We knew all along that it wasn't necessarily his Autism condition that was the issue. It was the major depression and general anxiety conditions that are entwined with his Autism that were at play here.

The professionals at the care facility were great. Our son was soon involved in a fairly regimented program that limited outside contact to specified individuals and time periods. Patients worked through a progression plan. The program helped a lot. We visited as frequently as we were able. We also participated in family therapy sessions that were very helpful.

Experts told us that treatments that had been working for our son began to fail because he began hitting teen milestones. With mid-teen years come opportunities like driving, dating, jobs, more responsibility, thinking about adult life in the near future, etc. While most neurotypical kids handle these excitements and stresses with some degree of success, all of this simply overwhelmed our neurodiverse son. It wasn't that we pressured him to do all of these things; he simply felt social pressure washing over him like the waves of the sea wash over a weary swimmer.

Eventually our son was released from the in-patient program. He has been working with a therapist multiple times weekly since then. Some things still aren't great. But his self destructive tendencies have been substantially reduced. We are still working through issues and will likely continue to do so for some time to come.

Although we have decent medical insurance, we still must bear a sizable chunk of the bills associated with our son's care. This kind of thing brings its own stresses to the family. But it's not unlike what people that grapple with serious medical issues deal with every day. When we consider what might have happened, our financial burden seems like a small trade. What's a life worth? Besides, we can manage this over time. We are blessed enough that it's not like families whose entire living gets gobbled up by medical bills.

If you ever have a concern that someone you know might be at risk for imminent suicide, call your local suicide hotline. Don't know the number? Just Google for it. You could very well save a life.

Our son has so much potential and so much to live for. I'm deeply grateful that he has been spared at this time. I know that he will still require a lot of intervention over time to help him maintain balance. But I am grateful to be involved in this work rather than in grieving for his loss.